Fusion a Good Alternative for Fusing Windows with OS X
by Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First
published in Low
August 20 2007, Mac2Windows column
They say timing is everything.
Timing seems to be working against VMware's August 6th release of its Fusion
virtualization software for Mac. Fusion's release might have gotten
more attention - except that the next day Steve Jobs brought the press
in to show off new versions of Apple's iMac computer and iLife and
And if Fusion had been released, say, a year
earlier, it would have been before Parallels Desktop had a chance to
become synonymous with virtualization in most Mac users' minds.
has a long history of developing virtualization products; the company
has a strong product line of Windows and Linux software aimed at
software developers and network managers. Fusion is both the company's
first Mac product and its first product aimed at consumers. (US$79,
before a US$20 rebate until the end of the year for US customers only.)
many ways, they've done a good job with it. Fusion offers a native Mac
interface with a user-customizable toolbar similar to Apple's Safari
a straightforward installation, users get walked through the process of
creating a virtual machine. Fusion supports a wide range of PC
operating systems including most versions of Windows, many Linux
distributions, Novell Netware, Sun Solaris, Free BSD, and "other".
Unlike Parallels, it supports 64-bit OS versions as well as the more
familiar 32-bit versions.
that most users will want to install Windows, you get an option for
Windows Easy Install... if that's your choice. Choosing this, you enter
your user name and the Windows installer serial number, insert your
installation CD, and Fusion does the rest - go have a cup of coffee,
come back in 30 minutes or so, and Windows should be up and running.
has done all the pressing F8, Enter, and clicking default dialogue box
options for you. It's much less tedious than installing Windows on a
including hard drive size, amount of RAM and video RAM assigned to the
virtual system, and more can be set in the process of creating the
virtual machine or after the fact. You can choose single processor or
multiprocessor support - at least if you have a Core Duo or
Competitor Parallels only offers single
processor support regardless of what's physically on your Mac.
Benchmark testing recently conducted by CNet Labs
reported better performance by Fusion compared to Parallels in a
variety of tests, perhaps as a result of Fusion's multiprocessor
with other virtualization (and older emulation) products, once your
virtual system is up and running, you really want to install what each
of these programs calls Tools - in this case, VMware Tools. These
provide the virtual machine with better than default video and network
drivers, integrate the Mac and Windows (or whatever) cursors, add drag
and drop between the Mac and Windows desktops, and more. And as with
the other similar programs, this is done in a similar way: choosing a
menu option sets a file as a virtual CD-ROM drive so that the installer
can be run. One restart, and you're in business.
and VMware's Windows Tools are pretty similar, VMware's Linux Tools
provide better integration with the Mac than Parallels' equivalent.
you've got Windows XP or Vista installed using Apple's Boot Camp beta,
both Parallels and Fusion are able to use it, allowing you to access
that Windows installation in a virtual system in a window (or
full-screen) without having to reboot your Mac. You can load the
appropriate Tools version into that Boot Camp installation and get full
functionality without needing to devote double the drive space (and
setup time) to get your choice of booting directly to Windows or
running it in a virtual session.
(Installing Windows twice, once
for Boot Camp and secondly for a virtualization program, would also
require two Windows licenses. In fact, I'm unclear how both Parallels
and Fusion manage to run a Boot Camp installation of Windows XP or
Vista without triggering Windows Activation - the virtual sessions have
different amounts of RAM and different network, sound, and video
adapters than the native Boot Camp session, which ought to make Windows
think it's been installed onto a second physical machine. If anyone
knows how they manage to get around this, let me know!)
Eytan Bernet write: "They do this by using the hardware profile
feature in windows - you are allowed to activate windows twice (and in
fact, you need to activate it once for bootcamp and once in the VM,)
and when you switch the method, they switch the hardware profile to the
one that contains the activation key for that profile.
Desktop's recent versions have offered a feature they call Coherence
Mode; choosing it makes the Windows desktop disappear, leaving open
applications floating as windows on the Mac desktop.
has a similar feature VMware calls Unity. As with Coherence, clicking
on the Unity button or menu item vanishes the Windows desktop, leaving
There are a few differences, though. You
may notice in the Coherence image that Parallels leaves the Windows
taskbar floating in space . . . there's no taskbar in Unity. And in
Parallels' implementation, all the open Windows applications are on
what Photoshop users might think of as a single layer. Using Exposť,
for instance, when using Coherence, if you choose one Windows window,
you've got 'em all. With Fusion's Coherence, each application is
available separately, the same way OS X works.
Beckman notes: "Just thought I'd mention that there is a "hidden"
option in Fusion to enable the Windows Task Bar like in Parallels. It's
in the release notes. You have to add a line to a text file in the
hosted Windows session." And Mark Gardner adds: "Parallels can hide the
taskbar using the "Customize..." option under the "View" menu. The
Parallels dock icon will then show the Windows "Start" menu when
can open additional Windows applications using Fusion's Applications
menu - it mirrors the otherwise inaccessible Windows start menu.
Parallels and Fusion allow Mac users to choose to share their Mac home
folders with their virtual sessions - and, in both cases, this option
may seem a bit obscure to users. Once enabled, a Windows user needs to
then find the shared folder and set it up as a Network Place; they can
then choose to set it with a mapped drive letter - actions that typical
Windows users are unfamiliar with.
you figure out how to do it, you can then access the contents of your
Mac's home folder - Documents, Pictures, Music, and more - right on
your virtual session's desktop, something that can't be easily done if
you boot directly to Boot Camp. (This feature works pretty much
identically in both Parallels and Fusion, and not at all in the current
Mac version of the free VirtualBox
printing in Fusion, you'll need to make sure the printer connected to
your Mac is enabled - it's easy to click the row of USB icons along the
bottom of the Fusion window, and click to make it accessible to the
Fusion session when you see your printer's name. (Alternatively, enable
it in the virtual session's settings.) Then, you may need to install
Windows drivers for it.
does a better job of this - it installs a default virtual postscript
printer; printing to it directs the output to your Mac's default
Both Parallels and VMware are working to improve
support for Windows 3D graphics; both currently offer support for
Direct X 8.1, but both current lack support for the newer Direct X 9.0
or 10 standards. As a result, neither will run many games and neither
will support Windows Vista's Aero graphics effects.
includes OpenGL support; as a result, it was able to run Quake 4 in the
CNet Labs benchmarks, though with much lower frames per second than
running it either natively in Mac OS X or by booting to Boot Camp.
Fusion was unable to run that game at all.
Neither are currently
a good option for Mac users wanting to run most Windows games, though
both are working to add that support to future versions. Best bet for
gamers: Install Boot Camp and boot directly to Windows.
Not a Resource Hog
typing this article, I've got Microsoft Word 2004, Preview, and Safari
running. I opened Parallels, loading my Boot Camp installation. After
closing it, I opened the same Boot Camp installation in Fusion. While
Windows XP was starting up, I continued working in Word. While
Windows-in-Parallels was loading, Word became noticeably more sluggish
than doing the same thing in Fusion. From this unscientific test, I
would conclude that Fusion is less of a resource hog, at least while
starting up Windows.
VMware offers a large library of "virtual
appliances" - operating system images preinstalled for VMware's virtual
hardware that are in some cases optimized for specific tasks; most are
free. In most cases, these are built on top of free operating systems
including various Linux distributions. Because of licensing issues, you
won't find Windows versions here, but some of these may be of interest
to some Fusion users; these and other VMware virtual computers can be
used with Windows and Linux VMware products, including the Server and
Player products that are free for Windows and Linux (but not Mac).
Fusion or Parallels or
release of VMware Fusion may create a dilemma for Mac owners needing to
access Windows applications. Should you buy a copy of Fusion or
Parallels Desktop? Each costs the same US$79 - at least after VMware's
rebate for US buyers expires. Or should you go for the free open source
VirtualBox is free, but the Mac version is still in
beta and lacks some important features - it's somewhere difficult to
move data between your Mac and a VirtualBox session, something you can
do simply with drag and drop in Parallels or Fusion. And with minimal
USB support, devices ranging from memory keys to printers won't work
with VirtualBox. For now at least, it will work for Mac owners who need
to use Internet Explorer to access a critical Web page (too many banks
require Windows Internet Explorer, for instance), but it won't help if
you need to print out that page. It's coming along, but it's not yet a
For many Mac users, it would be hard to go
wrong choosing either Parallels Desktop 3.0 or the new VMware Fusion.
Fusion offers 64-bit and multiprocessor support along with better
performance at some multimedia tasks, but you'll get better multimedia
performance doing those same tasks on your Mac. Both offer time-limited
trial versions; try 'em both.